“You are not from here.” The blade’s tension decreased, only slightly, but it was evident. “No one just passes through this place, lest they have no clue where they are.” The grip loosened from the collar, and Shadrach fell back onto his bottom roughly. He stared up at the dark man with stark terror, wanting to run in any direction away from him but at the same time feeling glued down. Deer in headlights, came a wild thought in his mind, and he bit back a bray of insane laughter.
Indigo’s voice cut the thought from his mind, as he slowly resheathed his pale sword. “You are a Vagrant.” In no way a question. He looked more curious than enraged, and Shadrach gladly accepted this change.
“Yes, that’s what some places call people like me,” Shadrach said, rubbing his chest nervously. “Vagrants. Some call us Misbegotten, too, and string us up like criminals.” And kill us and burn us and offer us as sacrifices to their mad gods, his mind added, but he didn’t feel a pressing need to give this one any new ideas.
“What is your world called?” Indigo asked. The curiosity was almost playful now, and Shadrach could tell that he had come to a place where Vagrancy was something fanciful instead of sinful.
“I don’t think my world had a name,” Shadrach replied. “But I lived in a city called Amberline. It was a very rich place, with lots of people and jobs.” He sighed. “I am trying to find my way back, but it isn’t very easy. There aren’t exactly maps for a trip like this.”
Indigo smiled. He walked over a few feet and handed Shadrach his bread and canteen. Shadrach took them carefully, fearful for another dangerous swing in the conversation. Indigo seemed enraptured. “Bless me, a Vagrant!” He laughed. “Of all of the things to find out in these badlands, a Vagrant! If only Magnus was here!” He shook his head. “He was a dear friend, and a great mentor. He was always talking about Vagrants and other worlds, even when some of the others laughed. I knew it was true, though. I was once a Vagrant, too, though I do not remember. I was with my father.” He stopped himself, smile faltering briefly. “Have you ever heard of my home? The great city kingdom of Damascus?”
The name rang a bell, but it wasn’t something that he could truly place. “I’m sorry, no.” Shadrach loosened a bit; he was now more of a spectacle than a threat to Indigo, and felt more at ease. “I’m kind of new at this. I didn’t become a Vagrant because I wanted to, so I didn’t do a lot of homework.” At this Shadrach laughed, but it wasn’t shared by Indigo, who gave him a slightly baffled look but said nothing more.
They ate in relative silence, and Shadrach watched the other man carefully. He had grown considerably quiet since the brief mention of his father, and seemed altogether disinterested once Shadrach admitted not hearing of the other man’s home. The silence was unnerving, so Shadrach did what he could to break it. “I know I probably shouldn’t be asking this, but why is someone chasing after you?”
Indigo stared back in the direction he’d mentioned before. “Hiram Blanchette wants to catch me because he is a bounty hunter. Because someone will pay lots of money if I am brought to justice.”
“What did you do?”
Indigo ignored the question. “I once worked for a man named Abdiel Zsa. I know you are a Vag so you have no clue who he is, but he is a terrible man that wants me back as well, so I can kill for him again. I do not intend to do this.” He took a drink. “Blanchette calls himself bounty hunter, but he is a slaver and a butcher and will do whatever puts the most coin in his pocket. And he doesn’t like that I have gotten so far from him this time.”
“I see,” Shadrach offered. “What would this person do if he, say, found me out here?”
Indigo smirked. His eyes glittered. “His scouts would rob you and then kill you, most likely. Or perhaps they would kill you first; a dead man is much easier to rob.” He stood, his dark body sinuous and spry. “If they chose to let you live, Blanchette would likely have your throat cut; he couldn’t afford to feed someone that isn’t wanted. That or he would sell you to the nearest fighting pit so that you might be used for one of the laughing brawls.”
Indigo snorted. “They take weaklings and pit them against starved bears and tigers. The beasts shred them every time. For some reason, the crowds find it most amusing.” He paused. “I do not like this place.”
Nor I, Shadrach thought. “Well, since I don’t work for him, and since I don’t want to have a go with a hungry bear, do you suppose I could journey a bit with you?” Indigo didn’t look at him; he was staring in the distance. Against the monster I know or the monster I don’t know? “You know, until I find a place to cross over again.”
“Migrate,” Indigo said absently, still scanning the horizon. “Magnus called it Migrating.”
Indigo took a deep breath. “You can come with me if you keep pace. If you have been lying all along and plan on handing me over to Blanchette, your death will be unpleasant.”
“Understood.” Shadrach shuddered at the thought of what ‘unpleasant’ might actually mean to a person such as this.
They traveled for three days.
Indigo took the lead, Shadrach keeping up the pace. The dark man moved at a soft lope, padding carefully but quickly along the ground, scanning the horizon as they moved. Shadrach felt clumsy and awkward as he followed, moving at a brisk walk. In his mind, his walk looked like the pace set by a person that needed to find a restroom.
The dead trees and ashen ground enveloped them. Shadrach looked to the clouds for some sort of creative inspiration, hoping he might see some familiar shape from his home, but nothing jumped out of him. They all just look like clouds, he thought miserably.
There wasn’t much life out here. There were lizards that were larger than what he was accustomed to, and twice Indigo barked a quick warning when they were lurking nearby. Shadrach was afraid to ask of the danger. Some sort of raptor bird passed overhead once, screaming mournfully and alone. It wasn’t until nightfall that he heard the distant, hungry bay of coyotes.
When he asked if they were dangerous, Indigo only shrugged. “If we looked weak, perhaps.”
The first night began quiet between them. The moon hung huge and pale in the purple sky, offering unsettling, graveyard illumination. Shadrach ate bread and thankfully accepted some salted pork and cheese from Indigo, who only grunted in response. Shadrach took careful sips from his canteen, and noticed Indigo was not drinking. He offered his water.
“I have mine own,” Indigo said softly. He was looking at the moon, Shadrach realized, and his odd eyes shimmered.
“Why would someone like you run?” Shadrach blurted, and a flush rose to his cheeks. He hadn’t meant to pry. The image of Indigo, moving quick and violent, was fresh in his mind.
Indigo didn’t respond at first. He kept staring at the moon. After a few moments of silence, he hung his head and sighed. “I run because fools want me dead. I run because they think it was I that betrayed.” He stared at Shadrach. “I run because of the treachery of another. I run because those that wronged me lay ahead, and I will have justice. Does that answer suffice?”
Shadrach coughed nervously.
“There are times that you bleat like a woman.” Indigo smiled. “It is good. I haven’t spoken to anyone in weeks. Not about this.”
“I know this might sound like more ‘bleating’, but what happened?”
“The story is too long for one night, and I smell a storm in the miles ahead.” Indigo rolled a blanket and laid it before him. He rested his head on the makeshift pillow and looked at Shadrach. “A storm and wolves at our heels. We will need to find shelter. Rest. I will wake you when we need to move.”
Shadrach laid down on the hard ground, wrapping himself in his blankets and keeping an eye on Indigo. He doubted he would be able to sleep very well, with fears of Indigo killing him in his sleep or running off and leaving him for the bounty hunters. But sleep came quickly.
Dreams emerged. He ran through the tumbledown grottoes of Amberline, the whines of sirens echoing in his brain and driving him like cattle through a chute, fearful of being caught and questioned. He was entrapped; police taunted and gesticulated with baton and carbine. He tripped, knees sinking briefly into ash-colored water and face crashing into damp pavement. He was hurled to his feet, and the cop raised a baton, and beneath the helmet was the face of a dark man with amber eyes, and the smile of a fierce jungle cat.
Now he was hurtling along a dusty plain, trees like skeletons reaching out from too far. He ran in the direction of the setting red sun, and the roars and curses of highwaymen behind him brought forth shrieks of mercy and aid. And they were upon him, dressed like savages with painted faces and pierced ears and noses, and the leader grinned with horrible, jagged teeth. They demanded the dark man, and Shadrach didn’t see him, couldn’t find him, and they raised their rifles and knives and readied to saturate the earth with his blood.
Now he was in her arms, and she was weeping, leaving him again, telling him not to follow. He reached for her, and she shifted from his grasp again and again, and she became like smoke between his fingers, and he could hear the cry of their son in his ears, loud, deafening, in need of food. “He’s just hungry, Paz, shh, shh, bring him some milk,” but she wasn’t listening, and the cry faded. As did she, and he felt that appalling, compressing grief that shook him to his knees, as she left him again in a dark room, illuminated by twin lights, deep, and orange.